A tough life, but Rohingya refugees feel safe and hopeful in India
NEW DELHI: Hundreds of Rohingya migrants have settled in various Indian cities over the last three years following sectarian violence in Myanmar.
As the migrant crisis deepens in Southeast Asia, migrants who have fled into India recall the horror of when they had to flee their homes. Sitting in his thatched hut in the Jammu hinterland in north India, Deen Mohammed considers himself a lucky man. Unlike his fellow Rohingya migrants, many of whom have been cramped on boats in the Andaman Sea.
Mr Deen recalls how he fled Myanmar with his family three years ago, sneaking into India via its border with Bangladesh. "We left our homes in Myanmar and illegally crossed into Bangladesh,” said Mr Deen. “Then we spent money to cross into India. Because of the language barrier we couldn't ask for water or food and remained without meals. Finally we reached here hungry and thirsty."
There are an estimated 6,500 Rohingya migrants in India with refugee status. But migrants like Mr Deen claim that there are thousands more living without any source of livelihood or support from the Indian government.
His family fled Myanmar after sectarian violence erupted in the Rakhine region in June 2012. The United Nations has said that those clashes left 115,000 people displaced.
Many of them took refuge in India - some moving to Muslim-dominated cities like Hyderabad and Mewat, but many, like Mr Deen, continuing to live in small shacks in the interior of Jammu.
A TOUGH LIFE
In an attempt to eke out a living, the women contribute to the family income by going through piles of scrap, and selling off what they can to junk dealers. With no education or any formal training, the men work as daily wagers, pull cycle rickshaws or sell vegetables.
But there is hope among the younger members of the community. “Here at least we are able to earn a little and feed our families,” said Mohammed Ali, a Rohingya refugee. “The police and the government don't harass us."
While many have been granted refugee status by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), others are awaiting their turn. The UNHCR ensures humane treatment of people seeking asylum. The Indian administration on its part has assured the rehabilitation of Rohingya migrants, even as it remains wary of their credentials.
"Lack of clean water is the basic problem everywhere,” said Kawinder Gupta, Speaker, Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. “We'll do whatever we can do for the Rohingya refugees on humanitarian grounds."
For now, the future of the Rohingya migrants in Jammu is not as bright as they might wish for, but many of them consider their situation more hopeful than the thousands of others out at sea looking for peace and a better life.